On Clutter

Excerpt from William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well:

Is there any way to recognize clutter at a glance? Here’s a device my students at Yale found helpful. I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work. Often just one word got bracketed: the unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (“smile happy”), or the adjective that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”). Often my brackets surrounded the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit (“a bit,” “sort of”), or phrases like “in a sense,” which don’t mean anything. Sometimes my brackets surrounded an entire sentence–the one that essentially repeats what the previous sentence said, or that says something readers don’t need to know or can’t figure out for themselves. Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

Wow, 50 percent? Great read; very applicable material.

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